Louth businesses count the cost of coronavirus

Several Louth business owners have expressed their fears for the future as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic intensifies across the country.

Debbie and Matt Jones, at the Little Rose Tea Room in Aswell Street, voiced their concerns over the long-term future of small businesses such as their cafe.

We spoke to concerned staff members at pubs, cafes and restaurants around the town last Thursday - just a few days after the government first advised the public to avoid social venues, but before the strict order for venues to close their doors altogether.

Furthermore, these interviews took place before the ‘lock down’, imposed by the government on Monday evening, just hours before the Louth Leader went to press.

The first local business we visited was the Little Rose Tea Room in Aswell Street, where the normally upbeat Debbie Jones and her husband, Matt, told us that they were more scared about their cafe’s long-term future than contracting the virus themselves.

Oliver Crossland (red shirt, centre) with his team at The Ranch Steakhouse & Grill. The restaurant and takeaway service have both been put on hold since Monday

The couple said that their cafe is well-sanitised, with tables several feet apart, but members of the public had been advised to avoid such venues.

Meanwhile, large crowds were continuing to visit busy supermarkets and touch shopping trolley handles and goods on the shelves.

“It’s hard when you’ve put in so much effort over so many years”, said Debbie.

“We’ve had no customers for the last three hours. Every business is suffering the same impact.”

Marlon and Gemma Jones at the Boar's Head pub in Newmarket.

Since we spoke to Debbie and Matt on Thursday, all cafes have had to close indefinitely..

The Jones’ exasperation was shared by Sharon Davies, landlady at the King’s Head hotel and pub in Mercer Row.

Sharon said that room bookings dried up rapidly following Boris Johnson’s announcement last week – and has now been forced to close temporarily due to the stricter measures brought in since.

Sharon said: “The town has been quiet since last week. Our hotel is usually busy. But at the moment, nobody.

Off The Beaten Tracks record shop in Aswell Street.

“We’re about £1,200 down each day, at the moment. And in the pub, we’re about 80 per cent down on our footfall.

“I’ve got 16 staff members. All credit to them. Everyone is in the same situation.

“We have some lovely loyal customers – I’m very lucky.

“We will come through it, and hopefully in a few months this will just be a bad memory.”

A deserted Louth Market Place.

Elsewhere on the local food and drink scene, Oliver Crossland – the owner of The Ranch and Mr Chips – made the ‘extremely hard’ decision on Monday morning to close both restaurants with immediate effect, including the takeaway service which had only been introduced at The Ranch a few days earlier.

Oliver said the decision was made because he could: “no longer guarantee the safety of, not just our customers, but our own team and their families with the 
social distancing guidelines”. The government has, of course, since ordered all such restaurants to close.

Oliver said the coronavirus has had a big impact on his businesses, but added that he felt ‘really sorry’ for smaller businesses who are more likely to feel the harsh effects.

Marlon and Gemma Jones at the Boar’s Head said they were ‘in limbo’ last week, but would prefer the certainty of knowing whether a lockdown was going to take place – which was finally granted this week.

The couple, who celebrated their first year at the pub earlier this month, said they wanted to help anyone they can - and, following a lock down, would hope to provide food to a local care home if possible.

It’s not just the hospitality industry that has been affected by the impact of the virus.

Many eateries had already reduced their opening hours, or closed, when we spoke to businesses last week.

Mark Merrifield at ‘Off The Beaten Tracks’ record store, and Mark Hughes, a dealer and committee member at the Old Maltings Antique Centre, in Aswell Street, said their respective businesses had suffered a decline in footfall.

• Pick up a copy of this week’s Louth Leader, or browse our website, to discover what local businesses have been doing to support their community.